David Cannadine at The Financial Times:
From one perspective, attempts to write panoramic, all-encompassing accounts of humanity are nothing new. On the contrary, they have been around for a very long time. One early example was Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World, published exactly 400 years ago while its author was languishing as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Yet despite its million words, Raleigh took his story only from the creation down to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and since he died in 1618, he never even got to the birth of Jesus Christ.
More recent practitioners of the genre include HG Wells, whose The Outline of History (1920) provided a single narrative extending from the origins of the earth to the first world war. Professional historians did not like it, but Wells’s book was a popular success, and it was remarkably free of the Eurocentric and racist attitudes much in evidence at the time. On a very different scale was Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, which appeared in 12 vast volumes between 1934 and 1961, and which chronicled the rise and fall of the many separate civilisations that Toynbee believed divided the past. Once again, the scholarly fraternity disapproved, and it is only recently that such broad-based approaches to the long, varied, dispersed and yet also joined-up story of humanity have acquired serious academic credibility.